LAST week I wrote about horsetail, possibly the hardest weed to eradicate on the planet. To me it looks evil. But pests can sometimes look very cute, and an example is the edible dormouse (Glis glis).
It is rather like a small squirrel, about seven inches long with a fluffy tail of the same length. It weighs 5oz or so but may almost double in weight immediately before hibernation, which lasts for six or seven months.
It is found throughout Western Europe, and gets its name from the fact that it was a favourite delicacy of the Romans. The dormice were caught in autumn when they were fattest, then kept in pits or terracotta containers called gliraria. They were further fattened on a diet of walnuts, chestnuts and acorns. They were eaten roasted and dipped in honey or stuffed with pork and pine nuts. It seems a lot of trouble for a couple of small mouthfuls.
Britain was free of Glis glis until the banker and zoologist Walter Rothschild brought six from Hungary to his private collection in Tring, Hertfordshire, in 1902. (Rothschild was something of an eccentric who had a carriage drawn by four zebras.)
As always seems to happen with alien species, some Glis glis escaped and started breeding. They have now become established in an area of approximately 200 square miles centred on Tring. There are estimated to be at least 10,000 of them.
The problem is that they like living in attics and roof spaces. They can climb any structure and enter through very small openings. As we know from friends in the area, having moved in they are the worst of house guests. They gnaw woodwork and electrical wiring (which has been known to cause fires), they leave droppings, and worst of all, say their unwilling hosts, they sleep all day and party hard all night, making scratching noises which drive householders mad. They are also capable of drowning themselves in water tanks, in which case the system will need draining and disinfecting.
The complicating factor is that although they are a nuisance and an alien species, they belong to the Gliridae family of rodents protected internationally under the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. Removing edible dormice from a property may be carried out only by a qualified pest controller licensed by Natural England using spring traps. The animals may not be released but must be humanely destroyed. Getting rid of them can be an expensive business. Whisper it, but maybe we should eat them, roasted or stuffed.
Duckling season is here, and with it the usual distress. As I wrote almost exactly two years ago, when we arrived from London we were thrilled to see broods of ducklings in the stream at the back of our house but we soon realised that they are tasty snacks for many predators including herons and crows. On Thursday a duck with a slightly wonky tail turned up with eight tiny ducklings, but I could see a crow had spotted them. As the brood moved downstream the crow shadowed them, jumping from branch to branch low on the bank waiting for an opportunity to strike. I watched till they were out of sight. On Friday the same duck was back (recognisable by the tail) but there were only four ducklings left. Yesterday in another part of the village I head a loud quacking and saw a crow with a duckling in its beak. And last evening the recognisable duck reappeared. No ducklings.
Sheep of the week
This comical character is a Kerry Hill sheep. If you watch to the end of the video you will see it stamp its foot, showing that it is fed up with being filmed.
The breed was first recorded in 1809 in Powys in Wales and derives its name from the village of Kerry (Ceri in Welsh) near Newtown. It is a sturdy medium-sized sheep with distinctive black-and-white markings on the face and legs. Neither rams nor ewes have horns. It is bred for meat and lambs grow very quickly.
Here is a video of a pair of newborn lambs. The flock is mixed, with some Herdwicks and others.
You can learn more about them at the Kerry Hill Sheep Society.
Finally, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.